Real Life Relationships: Mommie Dearest or Dearest Mommy?

Cier Black comes to terms with her kids’ perception of her parenting style. Illustration credit: Elizabeth Landt

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Cier Black comes to terms with her kids’ perception of her parenting style. Illustration credit: Elizabeth Landt

A mother grapples with her kids’ perception of her parenting style

I’ve always thought of myself as a Clair Huxtable type of mom from the 1980s sitcom “The Cosby Show.”

I was young, married, had a decent job in corporate America, and lived an active lifestyle. Our lives were filled with museum visits, Broadway plays, overpriced family dinners, two vacations a year, shopping trips and enrichment programs.

I tried to provide my children with memorable experiences and family traditions. I aimed to raise children to be assets to themselves and society.

My children have a different take.

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I recently learned from my college-aged kids that they view my parenting style more like Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in the iconic 1981 film “Mommie Dearest” than Clair Huxtable.

Was it possible that the life I envisioned providing for them wasn’t the life they experienced? Was it imaginable that the lifestyle I intentionally created did not produce the enjoyable outcomes I anticipated?

Hearing their version of their childhood was excruciating. I was speechless. I asked myself how could I not have known?

In fairness, my kids did not allude to or likely even know of the movie “Mommie Dearest.” And as much as I love the meltdown scene, as a parent, I never expressed such emotional angst toward my children.

But what do you do when you’ve prided yourself on being an idyllic mother, making sacrifices without regret only to later hear from your kids that they experienced trauma as a result? I was heartbroken at the thought.

There was nothing I enjoyed more than being a mother but I tried to envision what life must have been like for them in their youth.

I thought about my divorce from their dad. How they were never counseled. But mostly, I thought about how oppressive it must have felt for them to suddenly reside in a household where one person — one parent — held all the power.

About Real Life Relationships

Real Life with Nedra Rhone introduces Real Life Relationships, a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the attendant emotions — happiness, sadness, fear and anger — those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Here are some recent essays from Real Life Relationships that you may enjoy:

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Though my ex-husband and I were co-parenting, I felt I had to make up for becoming a single-parent household. The relationship with my girls was one of authority, and that must look very different from a child’s point of view, particularly for this generation.

Children no longer do as they are told, just because. They don’t just suck it up and keep silent. They no longer accept when a parent says, “That’s just the way things are.”

There is a certain fearlessness my children had to develop to express their thoughts. They were speaking their truth.

My children did not offer an in-depth demonstration of reasons why they felt my parenting caused them trauma but what they did clarify gave me hope.

They told me they appreciated being raised with morals, ethics and Bible teachings. They enjoyed the trips and the memories shaped by a well-rounded upbringing. They even enjoyed certain aspects of my parenting style because it made them feel safe.

I found a measure of peace knowing my efforts were not all in vain and I got some of it right.

When I dug deeper, to my surprise, I uncovered my own reality.

My generation was raised by a different set of standards where we never questioned our parents or elders and certainly did not attempt to hold them accountable. Nor did we have boundaries.

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In conversations with fellow Generation Xers, I explored the behavioral expectations that were placed on us. The family secrets that were kept. How we felt as if we didn’t have a voice or presence and the blatant disregard for individual expression. We all chalked it up to “that’s just how it was,” but now we were all parenting through our own trauma.

As much as I praise aspects of this generation’s courage, fearlessness and fortitude, they also need to gain an understanding of their parents’ experiences as well. Without it, they will remain in the dark and continue the blame game without holistically healing.

Finding common ground has been the greatest challenge thus far in repairing the damage caused between me and my girls. While they acknowledge, appreciate, and savor the quality of their upbringing, it doesn’t seem to wipe out what they are unable to articulate as trauma.

The fact is that we’ve raised this generation with more freedom and opportunities than we had ourselves. This is something I am proud to have achieved. But I have a different viewpoint and definition of what trauma looks like than they do. And they can’t understand why. Finding balance in this conversation is the only path towards reconciliation.

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Feelings of anger and blame toward parents are nothing new. They are so widespread and prevalent that it almost seems to be a rite of passage into adulthood. But how can we heal?

In all relationships, there are needs and wants. As I go about the work of repairing and strengthening my relationship with my children, I’ve turned to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For my girls, the conversation often surrounds the self-esteem category. More definitively, how my parenting style may have adversely impacted their self-esteem.

I don’t have all the answers because everyone’s healing journey is different, but I do think validation will go a long way in forming a substantial pathway toward recovery. While I may not fully understand or agree with what is defined as trauma, I can, should, and will fully validate their pain — pain that I’ve unknowingly caused as a result of my parenting.

We now make use of those prolific boundaries that they love. While the detours on this path seem never-ending, I know it is a sincere and genuine investment in the conversation that will reap a substantial return in love, family and unification.


Cier Black is a chief brand storyteller who works with message-driven brands, raising their platforms as they strive to transform lives. She is a mother of two and lives in the Atlanta area.

Real Life Relationships is a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the all of the emotions those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/).